Is Adoption Really the Best Option?

A transracial adoptee from Haiti weighs in

by Judith Alexis Augustine Craig adopted from Haiti to Canada.

Judith’s orphanage photo – Haiti, 1979

Since the announcement of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the new nominee for the Supreme Court there has been intense scrutiny of her politics, religious views and her family. As a Haitian adoptee myself I took great interest in the discussions around her adopted children from Haiti. There were many questions about legitimacy of her adoptions, particularly her son who was adopted following the Haitian earthquake. This particularly struck a cord with me, because following the Earthquake there was a lot of questionable removals of Haitian children.

I was interviewed by several media outlets following the Earthquake and this question was raised continuously. At the time my response was direct. I was aware that many children had been legally adopted but were waiting for the government to approve the process so they could join their adoptive families abroad. I felt in light of the situation it was appropriate for those children to be allowed to join their families immediately. The challenge became for those children who were ‘presumed’ to be orphans following the earthquake and were ‘rescued’ by many international agencies who scooped them up and removed them from Haiti without verify if they were truly orphans or if there were alternative family members for the children to live with. We watched in horror as children were flown out of Haiti within a week following the Earthquake and then learnt that they were not orphans, nor were they apart of an adoption process and worse still had families. In addition, we saw members of a religious group try and illegally cross the border to Dominican Republic with Haitian children none of whom were orphans. These are merely a few examples of illegal child abductions which occurred directly following the Earthquake.  

Many people felt these international religious organizations or NGO’s were doing right by removing these children from this horrific natural disaster, instead the opposite was true. These children had just experienced extreme trauma and now faced another trauma being removed without warning, consent or preparation. The International Social Services (ISS, 2010) stated that intercountry adoption should not take place in a situation of war or natural disaster when it was impossible to verify the personal and family situations of children.1

The sad reality is that black market international illegal adoptions continue to thrive worldwide, with children either being kidnapped from their parents or parents being coerced into relinquishing their children. They are persuaded to do this amid false promises that they will be educated abroad and then returned to their family or that their families will be able to join them in the future. This has resulted in many countries either closing their borders to international adoption all together or implementing stricter regulations.  

Haiti followed suit and introduced stricter measures banning private adoptions, limiting the number of international adoptions per year, closing substandard orphanages and rewriting the adoption code. Additional measures included more support for families in Haiti prior to them agreeing for their child to be adopted and a mandatory period of time for families to change their mind.2

While some fear these new restrictions will mean that the 50,000 children in orphanages will languish in care, reform is absolutely necessary to protect children and their families’. During my trip to Haiti while I was searching for my biological family, I met dozens of families who had relinquished their children years earlier many under false pretences and never heard or saw them again. It was heart-wrenching to see these families in such pain and anguish over their lost children. Many of the ‘orphans’ in Haiti are placed in orphanages due to economic hardships their families are experiencing. Leaving their children at an orphanage is intended for a short period of time while they stabilise their lives. Many parents have every intention to return to resume caring for their children. Imagine the horror when they found their child was adopted abroad. So, what is the solution?

As a social worker for the past 15 years I have worked in developed countries with intricate child welfare systems that support children and their families who experience a wide range of challenges. Foster care systems do not exist in Haiti in this same manner and this is an area that could provide much needed temporary support for families. While this approach will require further education for the Haitian community and a financial and practical commitment from the government it will keep families together and prevent unnecessary and illegal adoption.

While I can’t speak to the specific circumstances surrounding Judge Barnett’s adoptions, I am hopeful that they were legal and above aboard. My greater hope is that further transformation within the international adoption system will continue to occur so that families can remain together wherever safely possible and reforms will continue to protect the rights of children and their families. Adoption should be a last resort, when all other avenues to keep children within their family is fully exhausted and supported.

References

  1. Intercountry Adoption after the Haiti Earthquake: Rescue or Robbery?
  2. Haiti fixes adoption system, but some fear too few adopted

Can Intercountry Adoption be Ethical? Does it do Good?

In this new 3-part series, Leigh Matthews at the DoGooder Podcast (also the co-founder of Rethink Orphanages), discusses with me the why and how of whether intercountry adoption does good and can it ever be ethical.

Personally I found this interview to be the most in-depth I’ve ever done on this topic. I had no pre-empting of the questions and by the end, I was a little shaken and rattled as I realised some of the content I’d spoken about wasn’t as cohesive as I’d would have liked because nobody had ever asked such intensive questions before. After all these years in speaking, I have usually refined the way I describe and answer questions because in repeatedly speaking on the topic, I get more succinct over time. This time however, my thinking/speaking is raw for a good portion of it and Leigh did a fantastic job of rattling me! She has a natural way of understanding this topic given orphanage tourism is so closely connected.

I can’t wait to hear the next two ladies in this series: Jessica Davis, American adoptive mother who returned her adopted child to her family in Uganda after discovering she had not been a true orphan nor relinquished with a clear understanding of our western legal concept of adoption. Jessica has gone on to found an organisation Kugatta to assist other adoptive families who find themselves in situations like hers. Then Laura Martinez-Mora, a lawyer and Secretary in the Hague Permanent Bureau team, responsible for the intercountry adoption portfolio who provides her professional perspective.

Our views together on this topic will help develop some much needed in-depth conversation about how intercountry adoption occurs today, whether it does more harm than good, and whether it can be ethical.

You can listen here.

Huge thanks to Leigh Matthews for the privilege of being involved in your podcast!

Korean Killdeers

I was reared on a small dairy farm that rested on the edge of the Red River Valley on the Minnesota side. I grew up in a rural farming community that was filled with a lush green forest of corn, amber waves of grain and intermittent dots of farm homesteads covered with thick deciduous trees. On these vast plains lived a curious little bird, in scientific terms, called a Charadrius vociferous. These small insignificant brown birds with long thin spindly legs made their nests on the ground in the fields and shoreline all over North America. The locals, where I grew up, name this bird by the falsetto cry it makes … kill deer, kill deer. I am certain, if birds could speak, they would poke fun at the killdeer’s pencil-thin legs and scrawny body.

What makes this benign lusterless outward appearance memorable are the bird’s acting abilities. This bird pretends to have a broken wing to draw predators and trespassers such as a curious dog or small children away from their precious eggs. It’s amazing to observe these birds screaming around and flapping their wings and then dart away when you get near them. The birds deserve an Emmy Award for their dramatic performances. I have fond childhood memories of chasing these small feathered friends and was tricked into believing they needed medical attention. I never located the bird’s eggs but remember seeing fluffy plumed chicks darting about like a group of frolicking school children on the playgrounds.

In my studies I learned that the killdeer birds were aboriginal to North America, so I was dumbfounded to see similar antics during my travels to Korea. At first, I thought the kids waving at the soldiers were the average child as we passed in our armored track vehicles. Moments later, I realized these masqueraders were actually professionals pulling a scam. These acting children reminded me of the pretentious wounded Killdeers back home on the Minnesota prairies. Like the birds, they played wounded. Instead of broken wings, they acted out with alligator tears and pouting faces. The familiar killdeer, killdeer cries of distress were replaced with childish voices begging for items, “M.R.E., M.R.E.,” “GI gimme M.R.E.!” The children were asking for prepackaged Army food called Meals Ready to Eat or MRE’s for short. I eyed the children with caution and was disrupted from my stare by my friend.

“Hey, Hansen! I ate part of my lunch during our drive and I’m gonna give the rest of my meal. Watcha think?” “I don’t care,” I answered. I deliberated for a second and focused the children back into view. “Hmmm, to be honest, I really don’t think they want your leftovers.” Barrick jumped off the vehicle before I could finish my reply. Barrick seemed like a towering giant compared to the two little girls and it was comical to see him trying to speak Korean with them. I watched with amusement as the little girls refused his opened MRE package. They gestured that they wanted whole MRE packages that lay on top of my armored personnel carrier. Barrick insisted that the items inside the familiar brown plastic bag were indeed still good. “See,” he contended as he held the sealed crackers in the air and made facial gestures that the items were delicious.

I could tell that the eldest girl who was around 8 years old, was getting annoyed. She huffed several times and then blatantly refused the offer by waving her hands for him to get lost. As he made his final offer, the older girl stuck her fist in the air and gave Barrick the bird!

Barrick turned to me in shock and asked in disbelief, “Did you see that? She stuck up her middle finger!” Barrick took a few steps back toward the track vehicle and looked back once more to watch the little girl stick out her tongue at him. He shook his head in disbelief and said, “Just to think, I felt sorry for her!”

Another soldier walked up to the small children and handed the youngest some candy, she appeared to be about 5 years old. The tiny fingers clutched the pieces of hard candy and she began to place a piece inside her mouth. Then fast as lightning, the eldest child struck the littlest one with candy in the face. She landed a couple of hard blows to the small cheeks with her open palms. The eldest child’s face filled with rage. Then as punishment, the larger of the girls pulled the thinning mittens off the smaller one and stuffed them inside her coat pockets.

We all stared at the scene with horror and disbelief. I asked my KATUSA (Korean Augmentee to the US Army), a Korean National soldier who was attached to our unit, to come with me and translate for me. I kneeled in the snow and gingerly grasped the eldest girl by the shoulders and asked her why she was hitting her sister. The girl pulled away from me and put her back towards my face. I got up and walked in front of her and kneeled. This time I asked her if she loved her younger sister and if so why she had hit her in the face. The KATUSA again translated my message, and after a few minutes of questioning the eldest girl’s strong cold glare dissipated and she began to sob in my arms.

The crying girl blurted out a stream of words and left my hug to embrace her little sister. After a short conversation, I learned that the children were forced to stand outside in the twenty degrees below temperature to beg for MRE’s from the passing US Soldiers that trained near her home. Her parents were poor farmers and they supplemented their meager income by selling the Army rations on the black market. As I was listening to her story I started to see the telltale signs of neglect. I noticed that the exposed fingers were red and swollen from mild frostbite and the cheeks chapped from exposure. The hair was matted and dull flakes of dandruff were present in their hair and the horribly tight clothes barely kept them warm from the chilling mountainous winds of Korea.

So many questions fill my mind as I recount this story that happened so many years ago. I wonder what asshole would teach a little girl the meaning of the middle finger. I hope I made a better impact on her and that she has learned to cherish and love her sisters, despite the burden her parents placed on her shoulders as an 8 year old. I revisit this story from time to time and ponder on how this girl is doing. Would she have been better off adopted like me and suffer like I, or was she better off to have been kept with her poor family in Korea? The “once in a lifetime” trip to see my “homeland” taught me more about myself than I imagined possible. I hope this girl has grown up to be a strong, independent woman who has nothing but happiness.